Returning from an 8-year absence since her much-loved Aussie hit Somersault, Cate Shortland’s sophomore feature, adapted from a segment of Rachel Seiffert’s acclaimed novel The Dark Room, depicts the footnote days of World War 2 in a strange and confrontational manner like we’ve never seen before. The titular teenage character (Saskia Rosendahl) is called up to the responsibilities of adulthood early when her Nazi parents are incarcerated at the end of the war, leaving her to care for her four younger siblings in the unforgiving and oppressive environment of post-war Germany, as they trek almost 1000km to their grandmother’s home in Hamburg.
Lore’s resplendent, dreamlike visuals – lensed with the attention-to-detail we’ve come to expect from Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom, Snowtown) – are ironic when juxtaposed with the grim reality of Lore’s predicament, not only as it pertains to the physical rigmarole of her journey, but also of having to confront the prejudicial seeds sewn into her and her siblings’ minds by their parents. This reaches a particularly delicate head when they meet Thomas, a young Jewish man who they can’t help but treat with a certain unease, even as he demonstrates himself to be of use on numerous occasions.
What Shortland does that’s really exceptional is to take the WW2 scenario and show us the alarming, unusual flip-side of regular Germans, whose belief in their country’s part in the war remained fastidious, even in some cases – as is evident by some of the disturbed locals they meet – after Hitler has taken his own life. Lore and her siblings are unfortunate products of the war’s indoctrination, and bravely, the extent of Lore’s conviction in particular – partied to her relative maturity – means that we often find her unlikeable, even if she at the end of the day has essentially lost her parents like anyone else.
Her clash of perspectives with Thomas reveals itself in unexpected, insidious ways, even as she does at times appear to realise the error of her beliefs; still, don’t expect a tearful moment of epiphany – the film is too good for that. There’s tragedy in spades in the intense third reel, but it emerges from a source you’re not likely to expect, which makes its impact no less jarring, even if the film perhaps glosses slightly over the gravity of the loss.
Driven by a remarkable debut performance from Rosendahl, encompassing both the tarnished beauty of the war and the human capacity for endurance and change, Lore is an engaging, visually stunning, and beautifully scored (by Waltz with Bashir’s Max Richter) film. The ground of WW2 has been so firmly-trodden that this quietly involving take from another perspective feels like a welcome punch in the gut.
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